Dallas, Texas--Everyday life in North Texas came to a halt amid the COVID-19 outbreak. But connections have continued, even as people stay home to evade the virus.
"This won't last forever," says Grace Nied, who lives at Highland Springs, the Erickson Living-managed community in North Dallas. "We just have to look for the silver lining."
As terms like "social distancing" and "personal protective equipment" became part of everyday conversation, residents and staff at Highland Springs have figured out ways to connect while following social distancing protocols.
Matt Neville, executive director, and Dr. Mary Norman, medical director, have harnessed the potential of communication channels already in place at Highland Springs, hosting a daily video chat via the community's in-house television channel, HSTV.
Grace, a member of the Resident Advisory Council and chair of the One Community Task Force, is acting as an intermediary for the daily video messages, gathering questions emailed from residents and posing them to Neville and Norman.
"I stream into the broadcast from my apartment using [Cisco] WebEx," says Grace. "It required a learning curve from all of us, but we figured it out. The daily Q and A is very helpful and lets everyone know what was going on."
In addition to the daily updates, HSTV offers special programming as a temporary option for physical fitness, spiritual growth, and cultural activities.
"HSTV has been airing two fitness programs each day, as well as daily devotionals and performances by entertainers," says Grace. "We're making the best of each day. I feel so fortunate to live here. The staff is doing all they can to ensure the health, safety, and well-being of the community."
Continuous monitoring, proactive response
By the time state and local officials issued a 'stay-at-home' order, Highland Springs residents and staff had already pivoted to a new way of doing things.
Residents were asked to remain in their apartments as employees across the enterprise assumed roles outside of their typical scope of work to meet the evolving needs within the community.
Dining services across the community's four restaurants have switched to meal delivery service, taking meals directly to residents' apartments. Concierge services have mobilized to deliver packages and mail, ensuring residents don't have to enter common spaces to retrieve items.
"Our employees are remarkable," says Tina Ricciardi, director of human resources. "They have adapted in a way they hadn't done before to act in the best interest of our residents. It shows their heart and how their purpose is to provide service in whatever way is best suited for the moment at hand."
To celebrate one resident's milestone birthday, employees stood six feet apart in the parking lot near her apartment to sing "Happy Birthday."
"Never has the connection between residents and staff been more evident," says Ricciardi. "There's a bond that social distancing can't erase."
Creative social engagement
Residents, too, are finding new ways to engage and stay active. They are posting hearts on their windows and doors with messages of hope and encouragement. They are connecting on social media platforms. They are scheduling video conferences with friends and neighbors. And they are making the most of tools available to them in their apartment.
"You can still socialize when you're safe at home," says Barbara Blachly, community resources coordinator. "It just takes a little creativity."
Nelsie Petersen, who's lived at Highland Springs with her husband Don since 2015, was one of the first to get creative. The patio in the couple's apartment overlooks the courtyard between the Willow Ridge and Garden View Court residence buildings.
Nelsie emailed her neighbors to let them know she'd be opening her windows and playing the piano for 30 minutes one evening. At the scheduled time, Nelsie sat down at the grand piano in her apartment to play. Neighbors, sitting on their respective patios, listened to the melodies carried by the breeze.
Varun Kakar, director of dining services at the community, was walking to his car when he witnessed the impromptu concert.
"It was amazing to have experienced this," says Kakar. "What a great way for our residents to stay connected while maintaining social distancing."
About Highland Springs: Highland Springs, one of 20 continuing care retirement communities developed and managed by Erickson Living®, is situated on a scenic 89-acre campus in North Dallas, Texas. The not-for-profit community of more than 1,100 residents and 520 employees is governed by its own board of directors, affiliated with National Senior Campuses, who provide independent financial and operational oversight of Highland Springs. Additional information can be found at http://highlandspringscommunity.com.